Things You Should Know About Coconut Oil

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I was recently reading an article about coconut oil on a mainstream nutrition website, and on it a cardiologist warned against coconut oil because it is saturated fat. I immediately thought about how we have come such a long way, yet so many physicians, dietitians, and others are not really up to date on the latest research. Maybe that’s because it wouldn’t benefit the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture cholesterol medications.

If a cardiologist can be misled about fat, how many other people are avoiding coconut oil because of it’s saturated fat content? That’s why I decided it would be important for people to really understand what coconut oil is and how it can be used.

 

Coconut oil is different from animal saturated fats. Saturated fats are not bad; in fact, they are beneficial. The key, though, is getting a good ratio of fats – saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated all should be fairly balanced. Another important indicator is the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. The higher the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, the less inflammation you will have.

Balancing fats is perhaps one of the most important dietary tasks. Check this article out for more details on that. The point of me referencing that article is that I am NOT suggesting you replace all of your fats with coconut oil. Coconut oil is one of those things that I think is great to use in balance with other fats. If you look at my recipe for curried coconut spinach, it contains some coconut fat (although the product is actually whole, organic coconut flesh which is less refined) balanced with olive oil and other natural ingredients. 

Most people think that coconut oil is bad for you (or should be eaten sparingly) because of its saturated fat content. It seems that even the link between saturated fat and heart disease is shaky. Opinions are slowly changing about coconut oil and here are some interesting reasons why:

1. Virgin Coconut Oil might help with your blood pressure. A study published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine was done on rats comparing palm oil that had been repeatedly heated up to virgin coconut oil. The palm oil was supposed to mimic the effects of fried foods because many fried foods are cooked in reused oil that is repeatedly heated up. Heating oils and fats repeatedly or too much is generally a bad idea because it creates trans fats, the nastiest, ugliest, most horrible fats out there, AND it causes oxidative agents which create chain reactions of havoc that only antioxidants can fix. American culture can show that fried foods generally lead to high blood pressure, which can then lead to stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, etc. The rats fed the multiple-heated palm oil had significantly higher blood pressure than those fed just coconut oil and even the rats fed coconut oil and multiple-heated palm oil.   

2. Coconut oil contains an abundance (a little less than half) of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). “MCT oil” is actually fed to patients in the hospital when they are really sick and need some calories that won’t stress their bodies too much. MCTs go straight to the liver to provide instant, easy-to-use energy. It is not stored as fat like other saturated fats, and it doesn’t go through the lipoprotein process, which is what animal saturated fat does that raises your LDL and total cholesterol (which is NOT a good indicator of risk of heart disease, in my opinion) There is some shaky evidence that replacing fats with MCT oil can help with weight loss; I haven’t tried it and haven’t recommended it, so I don’t know.

3. Coconut oil may or may not decrease your waist size. A couple of small scale studies (here, here) have shown this association, but I am the first to admit that this doesn’t prove anything. I am certainly not saying you should add coconut oil as a supplement to your diet to lose weight; this would just add calories which makes no sense. I am saying, however, that if you can replace shortening or regular butter with coconut oil, that is probably a positive change. This may be due to the MCT oil, but more studies are needed to draw conclusions.

4. Coconut oil does not necessarily raise your LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, but it does not necessarily lower it, either. Some studies have found modest benefits to LDL from coconut oil (here, here, here), while others show no benefit at all. The studies that show a benefit, however, are studies in which coconut oil was replacing animal saturated fat (probably because the animal saturated fat is from GMO, grain-fed cows and pigs).

5. Just to wrap things up, coconut oil isn’t bad and it isn’t the next best weight loss solution. I think it is much better than shortening which contains trans fat. I think it’s somewhat better than the butter or fatty meats you buy from a typical grocery store. It’s definitely better than foods fried in refined vegetable oils. That is why I use it in my cooking; but not for every fat I use. I also use lots of olive oil, eat nuts or nut butters daily, eat fatty fish regularly, and incorporate other natural fats into my diet.

If this article has been helpful to you, post a comment below and let me know what your plan is for using coconut oil! There are so many uses and I would love to hear some more!

(This article was originally posted on Sept 3, 2013, but was updated on Nov 11, 2013)

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5 Benefits to Cooking with Cast Iron Pans – The Original Nonstick Pans

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No recipes tonight, folks. Actually I made some delicious stir-fry, but I have to make a few minor tweaks to the recipe next time I make it before it is post-worthy. The carrot-to-broccoli ratio was slightly off. Instead, I’d like to mention a few words about one of my favorite kitchen loves: the beloved cast iron skillet. I have spoken to many a person who dislikes cooking with cast iron. Why? It’s heavy and you can’t put it in the dishwasher. These things are true, but I believe once you realize all the benefits to cooking with one and get into the habit, you will not be able to live without it. So here we go:

1. Even heat distribution

Cast iron is great because when you start heating it up, the heat distributes evenly across the entire surface of the pan. You might need grip cover for the handle; however, your meats will turn out perfectly seared. You can achieve perfect temperatures for frying in oil (which you shouldn’t be doing too often, you know). If you have a gas stove, even better – you can get even better temperature control and heat distribution with fire instead of electric. You can take the thing camping and use it over the camp fire. They even have cast iron dutch ovens and pots you can make stews and soups in over a wood burning fireplace. You basically never have to worry about it getting too hot – if it’s the right temperature for your food, the cast iron pan can handle it!

2. Cast iron provides dietary iron

This is a wonderful benefit to cooking with cast iron unless you have hemochromatosis, a genetic condition that causes you to store extra iron. Do not use cast iron if you have this condition; however, many other people are iron deficient or borderline. Your body is excellent at figuring out when your iron stores are low and absorbing more when you need it, although it is possible to overdose, but unlikely just from your cookware. This works especially well if you use an acidic product, like tomatoes, to cook with. That will draw out more iron than a neutral or basic food. 

3. The original nonstick pan

Cast iron is great because once it’s well seasoned, you just have to maintain that seasoning and you can cook almost anything on it, including eggs. Can’t say that about stainless steel, and you have to wonder if teflon is ending up in the food you cook like iron does. I prefer to cook with something that I know my body needs anyway rather than risk teflon being the next cancer-causing agent and regreting using it for cooking my whole life. To maintain the seasoning, you just have to rub a little oil – olive, coconut, grapeseed, etc. – onto the surface of the pan after using it and washing it. That’s it! Make sure you don’t use much, if any, soap to scrub the pan out. This might cause you to scrub off all your seasoning.

4. Oven to stove and back again

Sometimes I’m cooking on the stove, and I realize I need to let something simmer a while and I don’t want to be constantly maintaing the right temperature on the stove. That’s the unfortunate thing about an electric stove. With a cast iron pan, I can just pop a top on it, turn the oven on, and put it in straight from the stove. Again, it can go up to any temperature you need, so don’t worry about the oven temp. Can’t say this about teflon, or other pots and pans. A lot of them cap out at 300 degrees.

5. Lasts forever

My favorite cast iron pan I found at a thrift store for $50. This is a hefty price, I have to admit – that thrift store obviously knew what they had. It is a Griswold brand, which apparently is very sought after. They stopped making this particular kind of pan in 1957, so it is at least 50 years old. That’s pretty good for an ol’ skillet. Can’t say that about a nonstick skillet- most of those you have to chuck after 5 years, max.

 

I hope I have convinced you to at least try a cast iron skillet. They are really fabulous! 

 

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Energy Drinks

Energy drinks: Bringing Bad to Worse.

Sugar is not good for your body. This is no revelation for you. I posted that recent article about sugar being directly related to diabetes. So what about energy drinks? Sugar free, even? Don’t be tricked into thinking this will give you some get-up-and-go; really it will just lead to lots of unknowns and potential adverse affects.

Energy drinks usually contain copious amounts of caffeine. Caffeine can be tolerated in moderation for the average person. I would know, I tolerated up to 3 cups of coffee a day for several years! As soon as I cut that out of my life, I started feeling better. If you’re still hooked on caffeine from coffee or tea, it probably isn’t the worst thing you could do; however, energy drinks often contain well more caffeine than you should consume, especially if you are drinking several a day. This caffeine could make you dehydrated, leading to possible renal dysfunction (kidney problems) or other adverse events. If you ARE going to drink energy drinks, and I recommend doing so very much in moderation, NEVER drink more than one.

Sugar is another main ingredient in energy drinks. Even if you get the sugar free, you are getting tons of chemical fake sugar. While this sugar substitutes are still approved by the FDA, they are still chemicals and I wouldn’t put tons of that in your body when we don’t know exactly what it’s doing.

Herbal ingredients and excessive B vitamins are touted as giving you the majority of your energy from energy drinks. Many of the ingredients have been considered safe by the FDA, but others have warning labels, especially when combined with certain medications or chronic diseases. I am not sure I would put that in my body combined with caffeine and sugar, and leave it up to chance whether I’ll have a reaction or not. Excessive B vitamins may not harm you, but they are also unnecessary and generally get filtered out by your kidneys into your urine, making for some very vitamin rich urine! That is what you are paying for, right?

So that’s the bad, what about worse? What’s worse than the above about energy drinks are the following:

-Energy drinks have been linked to numerous medical problems and adverse affects like seizures or cardiac arrest, even death.
-Energy drinks in combination with alcohol have been linked to impaired cognitive function and lower symptoms of intoxication. This can lead to accidents or other stupid actions that may harm yourself or someone else.

So what’s the consensus? There really isn’t anything good in energy drinks. Most of it is either bad, or unknown. There are many reported incidents that are scary and frankly make me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t drink them at all. I don’t, actually. If you do drink them, do so VERY much in moderation. NEVER drink more than one a day, but personally I think one a day is too many.

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